Apparently, there is a television channel by Hallmark featuring squeaky-clean and utterly wholesome made-for-television movies with happily-ever-after endings. Disclaimer: We haven’t had television reception in over 25 years and I’m not a movie buff anyway, so I’ve never seen any of these shows; but it sounds like they’re simply scripted romance novels. According to the Hallmark website, “As the country’s leading destination for quality family entertainment,” the channel is “dedicated to helping viewers celebrate life’s special moments.”
But my goodness, it seems these movies are incredibly popular. According to the Christian Science Monitor, “In 2016, Hallmark saw a 10 percent increase in total viewership and a 26 percent increase among viewers 18-49. During the 2016 election week, it ranked No. 4 among prime-time cable networks – even ranking above MSNBC.”
These are huge numbers. What accounts for the growth of the Hallmark Channel? Consider this:
Darren Triplow has an unusual occupation. He flies helicopters in Rwanda to help conservationists watch for poachers illegally hunting black rhinos. To unwind when he’s at his home base in Washington, D.C., he’ll sometimes settle in front of the television. But it’s not the weekend game that he turns on. It’s the Hallmark Channel.
“I like the content. The shows are family-friendly – it’s not riddled with violence like you see in a lot of shows on these days. And there’s usually always a happy ending to it,” says Mr. Triplow, who has been a fan of Hallmark’s programming for the past couple of years and likes to watch with his wife and two children. “It’s just easy to watch and it’s relaxing, which is kinda hard to find on TV these days.”
In interview after interview, viewers emphasize the wholesome content, the happy endings, the ability to watch the movies with family members ranging from young children to elderly grandparents. Kudos to Hallmark for providing such programming.
But, predictably, not everyone is happy about the content of Hallmark. Even more predictably, the objections stem from the left. A recent article on Salon pinpointed these feel-good shows as “horror films in disguise” – especially this time of year when Hallmark features wall-to-wall Christmas-themed fare.
“Welcome to Christmas in Hallmark Town,” snarks writer Erin Keane, “where romantic fates are sealed through gaslighting, sabotage and torture.”
Torture? Really? Somehow depicting “torture” doesn’t strike me as high on Hallmark’s goals when making these movies. But hey, since I’ve never seen any, what do I know?
Twisting the famous opening line from Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” Ms. Keane opens her article by pointing out “a truth, universally acknowledged in late November through December, that a single woman committed to her career must be in want of a husband.”
Ms. Keane highlights what components of the programming she finds “horrible”: “These films are a smorgasbord of gaslighting, emotional abuse, and passive-aggressive forcible confinement, with entire communities conspiring to sabotage competent women into accepting less ambitious, more domesticized roles in which their considerable gifts are only allowed to be used in service of hot widowers and their small towns, to which they will be permanently bound going forward. If the heroine resists, the narrative suggests, she might find herself joining the parade of dead girls who came before her.”
Even worse: “Overwhelmingly white and Christian, these movies dramatize the attainment, after the requisite miscommunications and crises of faith, of a specific American suburban fantasy that seamlessly blends the following ingredients: a nonthreatening career that never demands evening and weekend work or relocation; a heterosexual marriage to a handsome employed man who values family, with at least one child guaranteed; and a palatial suburban home located within walking distance of one or both sets of parents, surrogate or real.”
So the heroine finds love and becomes domesticated. Yeah, I can see why this is a fate worse than death for a feminist, especially a young hip urban feminist unable or unwilling to look 30 years into the future.
But here’s the thing: People age. As they do, careers fade or change. Urban excitement can become urban chaos. The thrill of being single and childless (so many places to go, things to do, men to sleep with!) becomes a state of loneliness and despair when you’re in your mid-50s and still alone. In other words, what seems like a horrible future to a single feminist 20-something career woman can look entirely different when viewed from the perspective of menopause.
Those silly heroines in the silly Hallmark movies – if they stayed married to the silly hero and settled into their silly little small-town American life – have the potential to look back 30 years later and see a loving husband across the breakfast table, children grown into stable and mature adults, a warm and happy home, and domestic tranquility. Aren’t these worthwhile goals? Or should the heroine have rejected it all in favor of a sterile bleak apartment and high-powered stress-filled career because it is somehow superior to the “horrible” fate of living happily ever after?
In a poignant essay, British journalist Liz Jones chronicles the differences between herself at 60 (a successful career woman) and the “horrible” fate of her happily married mother at the same age … a mother who was in poor health, but who “giggled” while baking goodies and watching her seven children romp on the beach. “My overriding feeling, as the Big Day [her 60th birthday] came and went last week,” she wrote in a voice of extreme pathos, “was that my generation of women was sold a lie. We were told our mothers’ lives were disgracefully submissive. We were told we must battle our bodies into submission, land a career in order to hold all the power. Problem is, a great job doesn’t bend down each morning, without a murmur, and pull stockings gently over toes, as Dad did for Mum.”
Just because Hallmark chooses to depict a little bit of cozy heaven and the beauties of domesticity doesn’t make them horror stories. It just shows the potential of what a quiet and happy life can be like.
Look, I know life is messy. A “wonderful” spouse can end up being a flake who abuses and abandons the family. Jobs can be stressful. Illness can strike anyone.
But to pooh-pooh domestic tranquility (a beloved spouse, happy kids, a warm small-town atmosphere) because you’re an urban feminist means you might end up like poor Liz Jones.
As a feminist-turned-housewife, as a former career professional who embraced domesticity, as an urbanite who left the city lights behind, as an ex-progressive who now lives happily ever after with a wonderful man in a proverbial cabin (well, farm) in the woods – in short, as one of those Hallmark heroines, but 30 years down the road – I can attest these aren’t horror stories.